I just find it fascinating how other cultures see some things about another culture that may seem completely normal to one but completely bizarre to another. The following article written by a French person explains American “strange” behavior in their perspective.
The text was translated from French to English using Google Translate and will obviously not be a perfect translation, but you can get a very good idea of what the writer was trying to say.
11 French Travel Tips for Visiting America
1. BE FRIENDLY TO NOSY STRANGERS. GRIND THEIR KNUCKLES!
Our custom is to kiss before, during, and after each social encounter, with 1, 2, 3, or 4 kisses. This is not the custom in the United States. For a friend, we will hug, with a great tapping on the back and a big smile. For colleagues, greet with a good handshake. Americans have a firm handshake, so do not hesitate to grind their knuckles. It is also a sign you have confidence in yourself.
Be prepared for an onslaught of friendliness. You may be approached by a stranger on the street asking you where you got your coat. Passersby greet each other cheerfully in the street. Your neighbor may compliment you on the curve of your muscles, and the cashier at the supermarket may ask you what you are doing with this beautiful weekend (and the three cases of rosé you’ve purchased). [Source]
2. YOU HAVE TO HELP PEOPLE, AND LOOK LIKE YOU REALLY MEAN IT
A passerby stumbles and sprawls in the street, an old lady can barely control Brutus at the end of a leash, a small tricycle driver loses control of his vehicle. Politeness means, of course, that you come and help all these people. American culture wants you to quit all your activities and rescue the unfortunate. In America, you cannot pretend to not have noticed all these little quirks. You must rush to provide assistance to all who need it. [Source]
Whether in the street, public transport or any public place, we must adopt this reflex. Hard, tough, because it must be done without looking first to the right and left to see if someone is already trying to help the person in trouble. In short, it must be done spontaneously and with good heart. I like it when it happens: for example my keys jumped out of my bike basket when I hit a hole, and the Americans rushed at me to help. It’s cool. I smile. [Source]
3. THEY FEEL NO HUMILIATION ABOUT THEIR EATING HABITS, EVEN WHEN ASKING FOR A “DOGGY BAG”
Americans eat and drink anything and at any time of the day: in the street, in a meeting at work, in the car, on the subway, in the elevator, the movies … So, there are drink rests everywhere: cinema seats, baby strollers, shopping carts at the supermarket, in cars, some bike handlebars. [Source]
The portions are often gargantuan in the United States (but you already knew that). Americans are not embarrassed to ask for a “doggy bag” to take home. They’ll even take home the rest of the tortillas appetizer.
The art of asking for a doggy bag (for a French person) is sometimes difficult to implement; between servers who disappear faster than their shadows, and the dread that you will appear stingy, it is not always easy. [Source]
4. YOU CAN NOT ABANDON UGLY CHILDREN. IN FACT YOU MUST PRAISE THEM.
Want to drop off your pants at the cleaners, leave an item with the hotel receptionist or pop into the supermarket while the kids do their homework? Know that leaving children alone, whether at the home, in the car, or the hotel is frowned upon, even prohibited. [Source]
Rejoicing in the presence of children or pets. This is the correlate of “smile to strangers,” it is mandatory to have a smile or a little “how cute” tilt to your head if you come across a child or pet. Even if they are ugly. [Source]
5. THE WHITE MAN AND THE COUNTDOWN
Crossing the road as a pedestrian is not always easy, you often have to wait for ages. When the white man is on, you can cross. And then a stressful countdown shows the time remaining for you to cross, sometimes only a few seconds to cross large avenues. [Source]
6. THEY DON’T STEAL YOUR STUFF!
If it should happen I need to leave my stuff unattended when I’m in the coffee shop, I just ask someone to look at it for the time it takes for me to go to the toilet. When I forget something in my bike basket, it is still there, even at night. And when you have packages waiting for you at home, they remain in the lobby and no one takes them. It may seem normal and civic way of doing it, but I am surprised. Since coming to America, I’ve become much less suspicious. [Source]
7. THEIR PLUMBING IS INSULTING
The stuff that insulted my common sense is the fixed heads of showers. [Source]
I still have not understood how it is that in my American sink I have, in addition to the tap, a flexible head (as in a French shower) to rinse the corners of the sink but in my shower / tub which is three times larger, I have a fixed head on the wall! No logic! [Source]
The other very strange occurrence is violent flushing. Be prepared when you flush to have the impression of being in an airplane toilet! [Source]
8. EVERYTHING IS SO DAMN INSPIRING
“Inspiring” became a word I heard every day: everything must be “inspiring” and push transcendence. We go to the movies, there is a choice between the biopic Lincoln, the Avengers or Misérables, each so inspiring in their own way. The books are inspiring, everyday people are inspiring (such as all the people with children and a job at the same time, teachers, etc…). I confess that I have a little trouble with this cult of everyday heroes. [Source]
9. THEY HAVE ORANGE PILL POTS AND CAREFULLY PREPARE YOUR MEDICATION, LIKE IN THE MOVIES!
I have to arm myself with patience for each passage to the pharmacy. Here, we will prepare your requirements in an orange pot in your name, with the correct number of tablets and the dose recommended above (yes, just like in the movies). So, it takes for ages. The trick? Post your order and continue shopping, then return later. [Source]
10. THEY ALL GO TO THE BATHROOM TOGETHER IN THE SAME ROOM. NO WALLS OR NOTHING.
If you want privacy (in a public restroom), no chance. There are no real walls, only partitions that do not even go to the ground. So you can see the shoes of your colleagues, hear all the noises … And even the doors do not help much. You can see the faces of the occupants through the slits in the doorway. [Source]
11. CUT IN LINE AND AN AMERICAN WILL CUT YOU
The film will start in 3 minutes and there are still 15 people in front of you, including a family of six children who are unable to decide anything. You would be tempted to quietly scrape forward a few places so as to be sure you get your popcorn and miss nothing of the film.
Never! In the United States, small barriers often mark out the entries, lines on the ground indicate where to stop and there is no “He who goes hunting loses his place” mentality there. [Source]
There is no chaotic rush to be first, not even if a spot opens unexpectedly, no “I didn’t see you there.” Here each have their turn in order of arrival, even the elderly. It’s pretty relaxing actually, even though I liked the excitement of notching in the queue. [Source]